Leopard changes her spots

After £1.5 million repairwork

Friday September 6th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

Leopard in her original guise

Following her abandonment mid-Atlantic while she was on the point of sinking, and subsequently falling off her cradle while she was being shipped back to the UK, it has not been the best year for Mike Slade's gorgeous Reichel Pugh maxi, Leopard of London.

Now after four months in the shed and an impressive £1.5 million in repairs and mods later, Leopard is shortly to be riding again. "At the moment we're two weeks from leaving the shed. We're all painted up and ready to go," skipper Chris Sherlock told madfor sailing, to the tune of heavy boatyard clunking in the background.

To turn the clock back briefly, Leopard was abandoned by Sherlock and his crew when the rudder broke mid-Atlantic and they were unable to stem the flood. Fortunately the boat did not sink, but due to severe weather it took some time before the maxi could be salvaged. She was eventually taken in tow to Spain and loaded on to a ship. Unfortunately the tale of woe did not end there as while being shipped back to the UK, she fell off her cradle.

"Basically there were eight large holes which Green Marine have stitched back together," commented Sherlock of how they repaired the damage. "There was no structural damage so to speak, it was more shell damage. So the longitudinals were all intact. It was like an eggshell when the shell breaks - you can put it all back together. If it had been an aluminium boat it would have all been twisted and it would have been a much bigger repair than what it was in carbon. In the whole operation our weight gain on the structure of the yacht is approx 150kg more. In effect it is stronger than what it was beforehand. So we have absolute 100% confidence in the yacht."

Over the last weeks Leopard has been completely rejuvenated, but more than this she has been modified to give her the best possible chance in her next race - the Sydney-Hobart. Sherlock says that the original intention for bringing Leopard back to the UK was to have this optimisation work carried out. "Having sailed the boat in half a dozen regattas over the last year and half, we've found out what the boat likes and what it doesn't like and so we've optimised it by extending it 7ft at the back, going down further and we've also got another six sails coming to really reach a maximum potential which we don't believe we've even touched on. These big boats take a long time to wind up when it's all so new. So it's all part of the learning process and this is our second stab at it. I'm sure it's going to be a lot faster and more competitive than what she was."

Leopard now has a 7ft long sugar scoop tacked on to her transom. This not only increases her waterline length but Sherlock believes will also improve her fore and aft trim - aside from being a racer, Leopard is also Mike Slade's cruising yacht and so has all mod cons. Most of the systems are stored in the aft compartment. This has made her stern heavy and the addition of the sugar scoop should rectify this, Sherlock believes.

Aside from this they have increased the boat's stability by increasing the keel depth by 22cm and adding 0.5 tonnes of lead to the bulb, which now has an all-up weight of 13 tonnes. All the calcs have been done by Reichel Pugh in association with structural engineers, SP Technologies. The result, Sherlock says will be a one third knot improvement around the race course.

The cause of the original rudder breakage has also been identified. "In a nutsheel the rudder was not built to design," says Sherlock."It was built by Green Marine, but having said that they've done a magnificent job with the repairs to the boat. As far as I'm concerned they are complete artists. They've done a terrific job."

Aside from the work to the hull a large part of the expense has been in more or less replacing the entire interior of the boat and in particular all the systems. These were all trashed when the boat was flooded. "We have had to replace all the systems - new generator, new watermaker... It is basically a brand new yacht," says Sherlock.

To get Leopard back in working order has been a mammoth task and Green Marine and Hamble Yacht Services (where the work has been carried out) have thrown a huge task force at the job. "It took four months, " says Sherlock. "We've been seven days a week on it with a team of 28. Now my fairers and painters have finished - and we've had 10 just in the painting and fairing team. The Green Marine team of nine are off the boat. Now the HYS electricians and systems guys are putting it back together because we've 80% rewired the boat. We've had a lot of support from all the local industry. Everyone's done a great job and it's worked really well."

A final difference to the original Leopard is her paintjob. Originally she was a dark metallic blue. Reborn, she will be a blue that is half as dark. Sherlock has come up with a unique way of achieving this colour - the paint is Sikkens car paint covered with a clear coat of Awlgrip. "This gives it the same qualities as a marine paint," he says. "Everyone was a little bit sceptical at the beginnning, but it works really well. That's why we've done it again. Besides on a boat like this you're respraying them every two years or so anyway because they get beaten up racing and cruising. This boat does about 20,000 miles a year, so it gets used a lot. If you want a long lasting paintjob, I wouldn't recommend a metallic paintjob - full stop."

You also get to have your boat matching your Porsche and it is no coincidence that the colour of Leopard's cockpit bears a striking match to her owner's vehicle.

Once Leopard is full complete she will put aboard a ship bound for Sydney where she is due to arrive on 12 November. She will be sailing again on 1 December ready to lock horns with Neville Crichton's new Shockwave in the Sydney-Hobart on Boxing Day. After that she is due to go to New Zealand for the America's Cup and to take part in the Millenium Cup, a regatta held between the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America's Cup for all the large sailing yachts that have congregated in Auckland.

When the Cup finishes, the boat will be shipped back to the States to take part in the Daimler-Chrysler transatlantic race - where once again she will be up against Shockwave - and then it will be on down to the Med for a series of events there, before returning once again to the UK for another much needed refit.

"We lost out on doing four or five events this year, so the boss wants to pack it in next year," explains Sherlock. "Obviously Shockwave is a faster yacht and you can only be competitive for so long. So we'll give it our best shot next year. We're doing eight events between now and next November."

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